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Palestinian Activist Discusses Israel Unrest

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We return now to the Middle East, where there are now fears of a civil conflict within Israel. Fighting has spread into many Israeli neighborhoods across that country. For context, about a fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinian. They're also known as Israeli Arabs, and they've lived side by side within the country's Jewish majority for decades.

In a few minutes, we'll hear from an Israeli columnist. But first, we're going to go to the town of Lod, or Lydd, as Palestinians call it. A state of emergency has been declared there. And the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited on Thursday, pleading for calm. But roaming Israeli and Palestinian bands have been stoning and beating up people from the other side and vandalizing property. And there have been hundreds of arrests.

With us now is Rami Younis. He is a Palestinian activist who is from Lod, or Lydd. He is joining us, though, today from another city, Haifa, which is also experiencing unrest. Rami Younis, thank you so much for being with us.

RAMI YOUNIS: Thank you for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you first tell me what you're hearing from the people in Lod? I mean, it seems like the situation is extremely tense.

YOUNIS: Right now, people are extremely afraid. It's all very new to us, this level of hatred and violence in the streets. But they started marking Palestinian houses in Haifa and in Lydd so they can come and attack later on that night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say that they've been marking houses, explain to me what that means and what people have been experiencing.

YOUNIS: They look at maps. They see where Arab houses are, and then they send younger kids to go and, like, mark them with a marker. They make a sign. The whole idea is to - so that they can come and attack it at night. It's shocking that this is being done by Jewish people, you know, of all people. But this is truly terrifying. People are speaking in terms of ethnic cleansing.

I mean, this - the city of Lydd - you know, it was occupied in 1948. It did go through a horrifying massacre and expulsions, you know? So it has a bleeding history. That place is very much traumatized, and it's been like that for the past 73 years because the Palestinian side of the city - you know, the Palestinian history of it - hasn't been recognized. So add to that the fact that settlers tried - started moving into the city around 15 years ago and their declared purpose was to Judaize the space. This created a lot of tension between us Palestinians and them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, when you're talking about that old history, of course, you're talking about the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. And Lydd, or Lod, was taken over by Israeli forces, and many Palestinians were forced to leave. A small community, of course, remained, and the descendants live there now, and they are Israeli citizens like yourself. What is happening elsewhere in the country in terms of how you view why Palestinians inside Israel are taking to the streets?

YOUNIS: Well, first of all, let me say thank you for demonstrating your knowledge of the history of Lydd. I mean, this is quite impressive (laughter). Usually, because it's a small city, people tend to forget about it. In other places, it's quite different. In Haifa, for example, the people from the Jewish side who are clashing with Arabs are not exactly what you would call settlers with racist ideology. These are more right-wing activists, people who are incited. And, you know, there are a lot of figures in Israel right now inciting to violence. It's just very, very tense right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rami Younis, let me ask you this, though. Obviously, some of the violence is coming from the Palestinian side. We have seen synagogues burned. We have seen Jews being attacked, beaten. This is not just happening on one side. How do you think about that?

YOUNIS: Of course. But before we talk about that, we need to provide the context so that people understand why there is rage on the Palestinian side. Mind you, these demonstrations - they started as demonstrations. You know, people were supporting the Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem - all these families that were about to be expelled from the neighborhood by settlers. They took to the street also because they wanted to support Al-Aqsa Mosque and object what the Israelis were doing there. But these were the triggers. These reasons weren't the fuel. The fuel was the pent-up anger that people had, the frustration because of the, you know, institutionalized oppression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You said at the beginning of our conversation that you have been surprised and shocked by the degree of hatred. What is different about this time in the conflict is what is happening on the streets inside Israel. I'm wondering if you think that there's any coming back from what's going on.

YOUNIS: It's a very tough question. It's a very tough question. We also need to understand that it's not a civil war. It's not anything close to that. It's two groups who are attacking one group. So right now, it's one group, a minority, who's on the defense while part of the other side's society is trying to eradicate it, sometimes being escorted by the police. So how - what do I do as a Palestinian? I know that if settlers come to my neighborhood and they try to shoot me and they try to break and enter to my home - and they've been doing that. They've been doing that in Haifa. So what would you do as a Palestinian knowing that you can't even go to the police?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What I hear you say is that you think that there is a narrative that says that the two sides are equal when they aren't.

YOUNIS: They aren't. They aren't. I mean, how could they be equal? We're the people who are under occupation. Yes, I am a citizen of Israel, but I'm not an equal citizen of Israel. So how can we be equal to them? They have the power. In Israel, this is normal. The group that's attacking you are the landlords. And the other group who's supposed to protect you, which is the police, are either protecting them or just allowing them to do what they do. Palestinians are not only the people who live within the '67 borders, Gaza and the West Bank or Palestinian refugees in diaspora. Palestinians also live in Israel, and they are oppressed. They are a second-class citizen. I don't really have an answer instead of - other than putting more pressure on the Israeli government and to start asking about what's happening to the local community within Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Rami Younis, a Palestinian activist from Lydd, or Lod, living in Haifa. Thank you very much.

YOUNIS: Thank you for having me. I appreciate this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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